Hesed

This last weekend at Harris Creek we started a new series called “Everyday People.” (You can listen to the sermon podcast by clicking here) We focused in on one Hebrew word that called “hesed.” Hesed summarizes Ruth’s actions in her story and shows what we are called to if we want to participate in God’s bigger story. Here are some reminders about the word hesed.

Hesed cannot be translated well into English because it has a variety of meanings. It can mean:

  • “Covenant loyalty, steadfast love, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, mercy, love and compassion”
  • It carries with it the idea that our relationships should have “stickiness” to them

Hesed:

  • Is Based on Relationship
    • There is always some sort of prior relationship
    • A deep commitment must exist between both parties
  • Is Action Oriented
    • It is not simply a “nice gesture” for someone
    • It is deliverance from “dire straights” and delivers someone from desperate need
  • Is a Powerful Person Helping a Weaker Person
    • It is a situationally stronger person helping a situationally weaker person
    • This is most clearly illustrated in God’s acts of hesed for His people
  • Goes Beyond the Call of Duty
    • There is no sanction, law or rule that enforces hesed
    • While the person has the option not to act, the relationship gives a clear responsibility to act
    • These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of measure for measure
    • Acts of hesed that go beyond measure and demonstrate that a person can be required to go beyond the minimum expectations of the law and choose the unexpected[1]

Hesed always carries both vertical and horizontal elements with it. It is built out of the belief that our vertical relationship with God, and the hesed He has shown us, should impact how we treat others horizontally. This is why Scripture continually points to both vertical and horizontal elements as authentic forms of worship. Here are few examples:

  • The 10 Commandments are built on the vertical and horizontal
    • The first 4 deal with vertical relationship with God, and the last 6 deal with our horizontal relationship with others
  • Jesus says that the most important commandment is to “love God” (vertical love) and “love others” (horizontal love)
    • “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
  • John follows up on this idea and echoes what Jesus says by stating that our vertical love we receive from God should compel us to love each other horizontally
    • “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:10-11
  • The ultimate picture of hesed is found in the vertical and horizontal bars found in the cross of Jesus Christ

It is important to remember that “doing hesed” is the call for all who follow Christ. Hesed is always action oriented. So how have you put hesed into practice recently? I would love for you to share in the comment section below any ideas, further thoughts, or actions you have recently taken when it comes to displaying hesed in your own life.


[1] Much of these four elements of hesed are from K. Lawson Younger’s notes in the NIV Application Commentary on Ruth.

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